Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Really Something, To Know Nothing About Everything

When I was very young, people told me that when I was eighteen I would think I knew everything about everything, but I would really not know anything about anything. As a young child in league with adults against those crazy teenagers, I always thought, “I’m not like other people. I won’t be like that.” I think this experience is pretty universal. Now that I am that hallowed or horrible age, people still tell me suspiciously frequently that I don’t know anything about anything.

Of course I sound very young in saying this, but: I know I don’t know anything about anything. I know I am young and stupid and foolish and ignorant and arrogant and every other awful-yet-true adjective that can be used to describe young people. I feel that, every day. Why else would I make such poor decisions, do such silly things, and care so much about things that even I can see do not really matter? I use my youth as a crutch; what else can I lean on to prove that my dramatic nature, my critical tendencies, or my difficulty with authority are not deep character flaws but things I will grow out of, like baby teeth or loving Seventeen? If my parents, my relatives, and my teachers had not indoctrinated me with the notion, I would still be aware of just how little I really understand. I don’t claim to know or understand everything, or even much about anything. The only thing I ever claim to come close to understanding is the depth of my own ignorance: I understand that it is infinite, and then some.

I don’t know the capital-T truth about everything, and I may not know it about anything. No one knows everything about everything, the be-all-end-all Truth that quiets all dissenters and squashes all inquisitive young people. Each of us is limited by who we are, as people, as individuals, as Americans, as teenagers, as adults. Our influences, our society, and, yes, our youth all separate us from the capital-T Truth about life and love and existence, and, really, anything. I agree that a truth about any subject as I understand it may be less well-informed, less experienced, or less sophisticated than an older person’s take on the same subject. Mine may be farther from the Truth as it is without human limitations. But as no one can ever consider Truth completely without being held back by his or her own humanness, my truth is still a truth, valid and worthy of consideration like any other. Not the Truth, yes, but a truth nonetheless.

It is my default setting as a person, especially as a young person, to consider the world as it relates to me. I am very tempted to make witty-yet-shallow, true-yet-hurtful comments about anything and everything. As John Green said of a poor review a teen gave of his new book after reading ten pages, “When you are young, you want to make critical judgments on things, and you want to do it quickly.” I do this often, of course. I am very tempted to group things – books, people, concepts, age groups – into Good and Bad, or Smart and Stupid, or True and Not. But, as John Green went on to say, “Reading is not about deciding what is good and what is bad. That’s not even the job of the reader.” I, in my infinite youth, understand this, and I try very hard not to comment until I have thought about a subject at length, devoted much time to it, or read the whole book. Even then, I must remind myself that I can never claim to know what is True or Not. That is not my job as a person. My job as a person is to extend and adjust my view of the world so that it is close to the capital-T Truth as possible, to shake off the limitations of my youth and my humanness, to not need any crutch to lean on. I also need to know that I can never fully accomplish this, and know that others’ truths are just as deep and important and legitimate, if not more so, than my own.

Just like anything with growing up, it is a process, a long and hard journey that never really ends. A journey that includes at least one self-serving rant, at least one snarky/annoying anonymous comment, at least a million Good and Bad good and bad judgments. As much as I would love to be the strong, sure woman people seem to think I am in informing me I know nothing about anything, the closest Truth I have is that I am absolutely, infinitely, still a little girl.


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Anna Swenson said...

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